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The Flipside of iTunes?


“[B]ecause of the discrete selling and buying of music, digital single by digital single, that iTunes and its kin will foster, we can expect a decline in music bundling, and thus in risk-taking and its shy companion, innovation.”

A thought-provoking piece by Sahar Akhtar in Salon today. Akhtar predicts that iTunes-like services will lead to a shallow, ear-candy music economy.

Questions for the author, and Creative Commons blog readers:

(1) Isn’t Akhtar really advocating music-snob paternalism? Listen to the songs as I package them for you, because I know better than you how your tastes should run. This attitude might be fine for a DJ spinning a set, but not for an entire market. To a savvy consumer, or an antitrust lawyer, “music bundling” sounds like a euphemism for tying listeners’ hands.

(2) To avert the death of the art-rock album format, couldn’t artists simply begin producing CDs without indexed tracks? If you really want someone to listen to a whole album, let the technology push them that way.

(3) How often do musicians (real ones, not A&R puppets) really consider the format of distribution when writing a hook? When you’ve stumbled upon an edgy arrangement or harmony, are you really going to scrap it because of that pesky new iTunes?

(4) I like b-sides, too. But before Net-based music, the only way to find obscure b-sides and outtakes was to buy a boxed set, or an EP single — which without exception included the hit songs that die-hard fans had already paid for on albums. (I must have bought four copies of the Pixies‘ “This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” just to hear a few rare b-sides it was bundled with.) Why force cult fans to doubly subsidize hit singles?

(5) “‘B sides’ and the noncommercially oriented tracks that fill out a given album have always been the artistic payoff.” Sure, sometimes, but always? Ever listen to a Police album all the way through? I’m pretty sure the U.S. military used those b-sides for psychological warfare in Iraq.

Your thoughts?

Posted 19 June 2003